mendler--difficult-parentsThis is a topic that freaked me out my first year in youth ministry. As a young parent myself, it’s not easy telling grown ups how to deal with their children. So it took me a while to really get to a place where I was comfortable with talking to parents. I’m sure I’m not alone in this area. I thought I’d list some principles that I’m learning along the way that has helped me navigate dealing with parents.

Know your role to parents. – We are support to parents first and formost. Let them take the lead. My value is in being another voice for the student to hear the same message that their parents give. It may sound different and even be presented differently, but it should be the same message. Unless, of course, the message is contrary to Gods word.

Parents are Primary. – Keep parents in their place as primary. Let them make the final decisions because they will have to be the primary enforcer, encourager and disciplinarian. We make suggestions not decisions.

Parents aren’t perfect. – Children do not come with manuals and so parents have no other choice but to parent out of their brokenness. So don’t be shocked if the parents don’t have it all together. As the old saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”.

Parents don’t have all the answers. - A parent may ask a question and you’re thinking “shouldn’t they know this already?!” That should never be your response but you should talk it out with them. Help them think things through and sort things out. Your perspective has an immeasurable amount of value to parents, so share it.

Parents need your prayers. – We have a great advantage of being able to pray for parents specifically and strategically. We know the needs and the struggles students have. We also know the struggles parents have. So we definitely should be praying for our parents because they need it.

Parents need your encouragement. – I understand this more now then I did when I didn’t have children. Parenting is not easy and most of the time there is no instant reward. You won’t fully see the rewards of your parenting until your children are on their own. Therefore, parents need to be encouraged that all the work they are doing now is not in vain. They need to know that making their kid come to youth group is not in vain. So be your parents biggest fan.

Keep parents leading spiritually. – Now, this doesn’t mean you get to put parents in check when you think they’re not. What it does mean is you must work with the parents and keep them the primary spiritual leader in their child’s life. For example, this year with my small group guys that I lead I’m going to send the lesson home a week early before it is taught. Then they can discuss it with their parents if they choose. This does two things:

  1. It keeps the parents in the loop on what’s being taught.
  2. Also, it challenges the parents to engage with their children spiritually. We will discuss what was discussed with their parents before we start the lesson each week. This will give me the opportunity to agree and reinforce some of the truths that the parents share with them from the lesson.

I only listed a few and I know there are many more. This post is really about partnering with parents better. I would love to hear your thoughts on the post. What did I leave out?

hope it helps

ac

Kicking It Off!

 —  August 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

 

Today, Scott Rubin (that’s his picture above), the Junior High Pastor at Willow Creek and one of the best all around guys on the planet, is dropping by with a guest post. Do me a favor and say a few nice things in the comments so he’ll do more of this!  Several years ago we wrote a little book together that I actually thought was fantastic, apparently nobody else did which is why you can go to Amazon and get your own copy for as little as $0.01 yep, one penny. At that price you may as well stretch your junior high budget and buy two or three.

From Scott:

The School Year is kicking off, the NFL & College football seasons are getting ready to kick off… and the new ministry year is about to kick off, too, right?   (I’ll be honest – ministry “kickoffs” are a little confusing to me, because I’m pretty sure there’s no “off-season” in ministry!)

Even still, at least in the U.S., as Fall approaches, it’s a great time to re-launch our ministries.   I’m super-excited about our middle-school-ministry-kickoff this Saturday night – and this gathering is special because it’s just our volunteers… no students!   Here are a few simple elements that we use to help re-envision & re-engage volunteers for a great school year of ministry together!

1- Just have a gathering!   If your adult leadership is just 2 or 3 people, you can do this around a table at Denny’s.  If you have more leaders, you’ll obviously need a bit more room.   But the key is to get leaders together!  If your summer season has a different rhythm than the school year, this is a chance to help volunteers recalibrate to how your ministry will look different.  In the ministry I lead, our “regular” volunteers are less involved during the summer months… so having a kickoff like this reminds them that things are about to ramp up, and their weekend schedule is about to get busier!

2- Have something to say!   This is important whether you have an exciting new vision about how this ministry year will look different, or if you simply want to remind volunteers why their engagement with students is so crucial.  As my senior pastor likes to say “Vision Leaks” … so it’s up to us to help volunteers remember why they do what they do.  There are a whole lot of other things begging for people’s time; make sure that they have a clear picture of how God can truly use them to impact the life of a student!

3- Have a blast!  One of the reasons that volunteers stay engaged in ministry is when they really enjoy being together.   Plan something that will help them laugh, joke, smile, and anticipate a year of fun together!



Question-300x300As summer is quickly coming to an end and fall is quickly approaching, I like to think about how the events or programs I oversee can be better. I also like to brainstorm new ones. My goal is to learn from my failures with summer events, so I don’t repeat them in the fall. Through failure I’ve grown to love the planning process a lot more. Here are 7 questions I ask myself based off of events/programs that I didn’t think all the way through.

  1. What’s the purpose of the event/program? – Knowing the purpose of the event I’m planning helps me gauge my target audience. Not every student will want to come to a worship event or discipleship event. Knowing the purpose allows me to go all out on promotion that is specifically created with the purpose of the event in mind.  My goal is to reach those I’ve identified as my potential taget.
  2. Will students want to come? –  I have to be careful that I don’t plan something based on my own preference but I plan something that will be great and fun for students. I’ve pulled core students in on the planning just to get their perspective on an event or program.
  3. Is there opportunity for building relationships? – I think of this question in terms of student to student or leader to student. Of course there will be both going on but being intentional about which one best fits the event takes the event to the next level.  A lot of times I push students to our events so they can get connected, so I have to think about that during the planning process.
  4. Is there follow-up or next steps needed? – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed the opportunity to challenge students to take the next step or follow-up with them because I didn’t think it through beforehand. I’ve been thinking about helping students follow-up with friends that they bring to events. This is definitely a question you want to ask yourself.
  5. Should it cost and is it the right amount? - I’m always thinking is there a way not to charge. Sometimes it’s doable, like the park day we do where we provide lunch, but this is not always the case. Some events or programs have no budget and students have to pay, which is ok, as long as it’s the right price point which has been thought through. Parents will definitely appreciate this step.
  6. Where can we cut cost? – Again I’m thinking about budget and parents. Budget money is coming from people who believe in the God given mission of the church. I definitely want to care about where their money is going. So where can we save money is the question.
  7. How can we help students invite their friends? – Students are connected non-stop with their friends through social media and text. We’ve had great success using these mediums to help them invite their friends.  The goal is to be as creative as you can be.  If you’re not that creative get some of your students to help you.  They will love it and you will have potentially started a new ministry.

Now, I know there are more than just seven questions, so what else can we think about in the planning process to make it the best event/program ever?  Would love to hear your thoughts!!!

hope it helps

ac

The Bionic Teenager?

 —  August 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

I sat in a planning meeting today with several caring local professionals. They hope to host a youth summit in our area, and our conversation eventually centered on the desired outcomes of the conference. We began brainstorming  what we want to see happen in the students involved. In other words, “Who will they ultimately be when they leave this event because they were a part of it?”

After several minutes on that line of thinking, I raised my hand and offered an observation:

“It feels like we’re trying to create a bionic teenager. I don’t know if everyone remembers that old TV show the Six Million Dollar Man, but there was this concept in its opening theme that it feels like we’re sharing here – that we have the means to make students better than they were before… ‘better, stronger, faster.’

I think everything we’ve talked about are great values for kids to grow into, but if I were to force this on my own son he’d feel immense pressure because he can’t get there overnight (let alone consistently). Maybe we need to include the values of ‘rest’ and ‘journey’ somehow? Students can take steps this way, but they may need to intentionally pause along the way and take stock of their progress so they don’t crash because they feel they’re not yet perfect.”

My thoughts were met with enthusiasm, not to mention a lot of affirmation. I felt like I’d made a real contribution to the discussion.

Only…

praiseI wondered how often I’ve not had that thought in ministry. Maybe you can identify:

  • “Once kids go on this trip, their hearts will be forever transformed for Jesus.”
  • “If I can only get that student baptized, then he/she will become a role model to the others.”
  • “The more often students are consistent with youth group attendance, the more consistent they’ll be with Jesus.”
  • “They have to start (reading the Bible/praying/fasting/tithing/singing) more if they hope to have a real breakthrough.”

Even just writing those made me realize how absurd they all are.

And yet… don’t thoughts like that creep into your head and planning, too?

The thing about bionics is that something unnatural was added to appear natural.

Hmm. Is that the end?

What do you think is reasonable and unreasonable to expect in these matters?



This is just pure fun, from beginning to end.

Then again, maybe this represents relationships, church life and more?

Your pick.

Watch it a few times and picture yourself as each of the three characters. Show it to students and ask them to do the same thing.

Perhaps we say we’re always being kicked, not realizing we also do our fair share of kicking or setting it up to happen.

Enjoy!

 

Jesus used “everyday” material for His parables to tell people about the Kingdom of God.

You can teach your students and leaders to do the same thing by snagging pictures with your camera phone, throwing up on the screen and asking “What message or values does this communicate?” You can even bring them into this process and teach them to engage culture by having them shares the pictures they found throughout their week.

For example, I encountered a “Sinful Colors” display at a local store.

Sinful Colors

Colors include “Set the Mood,” “Dark Room,” “Mardi Gras,” “Boom Boom” and…. (strangely enough) “Innocent.”

So… what message or values does this picture communicate?



I’ve done youth group on different nights of the week throughout my years in youth ministry – thought it would be interesting to get a quick pulse on when you do “youth group” in your context. Vote in today’s poll!

JG

A few years ago, my wife Jennifer and I were asked to organize and lead a one-day children’s and youth ministry training for churches in our state that were part of our denomination. We invited a few speakers to lead different seminars throughout the day for both volunteers and staff members from local churches. My wife–who has a degree in human development and extensive experience working with kids and adults with developmental disabilities–led a seminar at the end of the day on how to minister to kids with special needs. During the break before that last seminar, a group from a church that had traveled a few hours for the training packed up to get a jump on their trip home. They explained that they didn’t need to attend the last seminar anyways, because they didn’t have any kids in their church who were developmentally disabled.

My wife handled the conversation very graciously, even though she can be quite passionate about caring for people with special needs. On the inside, however, she was thinking, maybe there’s a REASON you don’t have any kids with special needs! It’s very possible that a family may have visited their church, but left after one Sunday (or even before church was over!) because it was very clear that church would not be a good environment for their autistic or developmentally disabled child or teenager. In fact, it may be that a family has visited your church, but did not stay because they didn’t feel like it wouldn’t be a good place for their special needs teenager.

Not every church or youth ministry of any size is able to perfectly accommodate and minister to any special need teenager that walks through their doors. However, there are a few things every church can–and should–do to be ready to love and serve students with special needs. Here’s a quick list:

Be ready to serve. A teenager with special needs and her family will be able to tell right off the bat if your church and youth ministry is willing to serve them or not. While you and I both know that a teenager with special needs matters just as much to God as anyone else, most special needs kids are treated as an outcast in one or more areas of their lives. And what did Jesus do with people that the world mistreated? He loved them with open arms. You may not be a doctor or have a degree in human development, but anyone can serve by welcoming someone with open arms.

Educate yourself about different kinds of disabilities. Thankfully, my wife is a walking library of how to serve kids with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs, and she answers a ton of my questions. Find a good book on the topic, or better yet, get to know a special education teacher in your church. You don’t have to be an expert, but a little understanding can help you be a better youth worker to kids with special needs.

Show a little grace to parents. Before they found their way to your church, chances are that the parents of a special needs teenager have had less-than-ideal experiences in how schools, churches, or other organizations have treated their son or daughter. So, if a parent has a few more questions than you’re used to, or if they seem to be checking up on you a lot, that’s okay. They’re just trying to make sure their son or daughter is being taken care of.

Help them know Jesus. If the Bible is to believed, then God wants every human being to be reconciled to him through a relationship with Jesus (1 Timothy 2:4). The last time I checked, an IQ test was not a biblical requirement for learning about Jesus. If you take the extra time to help someone who might have a developmental delay or cognitive disability to know Jesus, you’re being faithful as a youth worker. One of the highlights of career as a youth pastor has been baptizing a special needs student who was more excited than anyone I’ve ever known to be baptized.

Integrate them into the ministry wherever possible. The answer to helping a group of special needs teenagers is not to give them their own small group. Help them be a part of your family by actually making them a part of your family. Get them in a small group. Let them lead in some way. Pair them up with another student to help them have a great time during your large group gathering.

Be flexible. Be willing to go out of your way to help a special needs teenager attend a retreat or be a part of a small group. You might even need to make an exception to one of your rules. Parents of special needs kids are used to being told “no” when it comes to things their kids can do. Go out of your way to find a way to able to tell them “yes.”

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert on working with teenagers with special needs to be able to make your youth ministry a welcoming place for them. You just need to be willing to serve and go the extra mile.

Benjer McVeigh serves as a pastor to students at Washington Heights Church in Ogden, Utah. He resides in Ogden with his wife, Jennifer, and his two daughters, Bethany and Samantha. He blogs at www.BenjerMcVeigh.com.